Monday, March 31, 2008

The New York Times reports on Ornette Coleman's recent appearance at Town Hall: 
The blues have always been a bedrock presence in Mr. Coleman’s music, however avant-garde his reputation. His momentous half-century career has even delved meaningfully into funk, via his band Prime Time. But here he was working in a bebop mode, bracketing his solo flights with tight, concise themes. The blues accent felt like a thoughtful restriction, a way of grounding the abstract thrust of the performance. Whatever the case, it worked: the concert was a bracing triumph.
Big Road Blues has an insightful essay on California blues:
The Black population swelled in the 1940s, due to large manpower needs to work in the U.S. defense industry during World War II. These new arrivals needed entertainment, of course, and the local jazz and blues club scene heated up quickly.
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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Nick Lowe – Jesus of Cool: 30th Anniversary Edition (Stiff Records/Yep Roc 1978, 2008)

This album was originally released in America as Pure Pop for Now People, and both album names have a grain of truth since it was a very cool album of pop music, released during the heyday of punk and disco which meant it sank without a trace. Released in a lovingly assembled package 30 years on with all of the music from the British and American versions as well as some live tracks and B sides, it makes for a model reissue. As a fan as well as a musician, many of the tracks on this LP are about the music industry. The snidely funny “I Love My Label” and the opening “Music for Money” are excellent satire as are “Rollers Show” and the riotously funny “The Called It Rock.” Lowe was also Elvis Costello's producer during this period, and anyone familiar with his breathless lyrics will be right at home here. Two of Lowe's most popular and enduring tracks, “Cruel to Be Kind” and “Heart of the City” are included here in the bonus material. This is a very fun disc filled with excellent music. The CD packaging is very interesting with a foldout design featuring the original album covers and many photos. The liner notes are well done, including original promotional material, and an essay putting the music in its historical context. Kudos all around for a fine job releasing some unjustly neglected music.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Peter Brotzmann - The Complete Machine Gun Sessions (Atavistic UMS, 2007)

I'd been interested in, but a little leery of this music. I kept reading about how it was a landmark, especially in the Penguin guide, who continually gave it their highest rating, but everyone writes about the daunting nature of this music. This new version pulls together the original album and other music recorded at those sessions to give a more complete look at these groundbreaking recordings. The music itself is as in-your-face and belligerent as you can imagine. "Machine Gun" is extreme free jazz with bits of riffing thrown in - shrieking saxophone that sounds like tearing metal, bowed basses swirling and stinging, strong atonal playing that was really laying down a gauntlet for free improvisation in the post Coltrane jazz world. "Responsible/For Jan Van De Ven" begins with a moment of deceptive calm, building from basses to drums to a holy riot of saxophones, before the strummed bass comes back in to introduce a nearly jaunty riff.
"Music For Han Bennink" has full force free improvisation before the introduction of Bennink's muted percussion solo. Then the full band cacophony begins anew. "Machine Gun, Second Take" Is a hair-raising reprise of the opening track, alternating saxophone solos with blasts of full band collectiveimprovisation. An alternate take of "Responsible/For Jan Van De Ven" and a roof-raising live version of "Machine Gun" round out this disc. Certainly not for the faint of heart, fans of free improvisation or "energy music" will agree with the Penguin Guide's assessment of this as one of the visionary recordings of avant-garde jazz.

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Michael Dease - Clarity (Blues Back, 2007)

Dease is a young trombonist, composer and educator with a clear, thoughtful sound a conception of music placing him firmly in the post-bop modern mainstream. He is of fine voice and controls the instrument well on this program of mostly original compositions. Joining him on this album are Brandon Lee on trumpet, Sharel Cassidy on alto saxophone, Kris Bowers on piano, Mathew Hereda on bass and a trio of drummers alternating on each track. Citing Curtis Fuller as an inspiration and having played in the big band of Illinois Jacquet, Dease keeps the music on the swing side throughout the program. The composition "Relentless" sounding a little bit like the standard "Blue Skies" leads off the disc with trombone backed by the other horns and soloing at length. There's some fine riffing and boppish saxophone soloing from Victor Goines sitting in with the group on "One 4 Steve." The band slows things down to ballad tempos on "Lullaby for Rita" and another guest, pianist Eric Reed, contributes a nice solo backed by bass and drums. "Elusive" also brings the pace down, and Dease uses his thoughtful tone and clean articulation to produce a well paced solo. This is a solid album of well played mainstream hard bop, and I was particularly impressed by the pianist Bowers and his crisp style. Trombone aficionados and fans of the modern mainstream will take considerable enjoyment in this disc.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Pop Matters tells the fascinating story of Yoko Noge, who left Japan for Chicago to sing the blues:
“There was no other place. Chicago was the blues,” she says. “I came here to sing. But first I had to listen, to hear the real thing. When I came here, the blues was somebody else’s voice. I came here to search for my own voice.”
Howard Mandel has an update on Ornette Coleman's current activities:
"Having just turned 78 years old, still Ornette performs with uniquely penetrating power on saxophone and usually violin and trumpet, too. As recently reported on this blog, he was in fine form in February at the Portland Jazz Festival, and he re-tuned my ears to the expansive sounds of the world, leading an ensemble of three bassists (including Charnette Moffett, son of his late drummer Charlie) and his own son Denardo on drums. The sold-out show was held in a former movie palace, and was the launch of a tour that got as far as the Far East and New Zealand."
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Monday, March 24, 2008

Big Road Blues has a very interesting post about The George Mitchell Collection of blues field recordings made in the 1960's. Since reading In Search of the Blues I have been conscious of some of the motives of the people who went into the field to record "authentic" music, and the post addresses this:
"Mitchell had the passion and drive to seek out these folks, and unlike some folklorists didn’t use the music to reinforce his own theories, he simply let the musicians speak for themselves and judging by the recordings they clearly responded to Mitchell’s sincerity (being a southerner probably didn’t hurt as well)."
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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Susie Arioli Band w/ Jordan Officer - Live at the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal (Justin Time, 2008)

Vocalist Susie Arioli leads a nostalgic, swing based group on this live album which includes the performance on both CD and DVD with her backing band consisting of Jordan Officer on guitar and vocals, Michael Jerome Browne on guitar, ShaneMacenzie on bass, Remi Leclerc on drums, and Martin Lacasse and Francis Mondoux adding background vocals. The material is mostly swing based, with the propulsive strummed guitars giving things a bit of a gypsy swing feel. Arioli's voice is mild and unobtrusive, and the band plays quite well within it. The instrumental tracks appealed to me the most, "Walter's Flat" and "Jordan's Boogie" featuring Officer who is a fleet and nimble guitarist. The sung material is from a variety of sources, with the requisite standards from Fats Waller "Honeysuckle Rose" and Benny Goodman "If Dreams Came True" but also has some country tunes from Roger Miller and some blues from Willie Dixon and Memphis Slim. The DVD is filmed well in good quality, and it has a few extra tunes not included in the CD and some interview segments. Vocal jazz is not really my forte, but I found this to be solid quality music, and fans of either restrained and tasteful vocals or guitar centered swing will probably enjoy this music.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Sonny Boy Williamson II - His Best (Chess, 1997)

Blues singer and harmonica player Sonny Boy Williamson had already had quite a life and career before he joined up with Chess Records in Chicago in the late 1950's. Rice Miller had appropriated his stage name from the earlier Sonny Boy, John Lee Williamson, who was himself a legendary bluesman murdered well before his time. SBWII was a wily sharp tonged raconteur who made some wonderful and influential music for Chess, and his most well known songs are on this one disc collection. Some of the tracks on this collection deal frankly with the violence that was part of day to day life. The unnervingly brilliant "Love in Vain" states that if you "whup her when she need it, the judge will not let you explain" because the woman "is the glory of her man." Sonny Boy keeps it up with the boasting "Your Funeral and My Trial" and tales of urban gossip in "Don't Start Me To Talkin.'" Sonny Boy Williams on plays some mean harmonica throughout this compilation, but like the best blues musicians, he uses his instrument judiciously, to punctuate his vocals, or to make wry commentary on the music and life around him. One of the most unique characters in the blues, his music deserves to be savored.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Here is an interesting thought: Is Guitar Hero Changing Our Culture? I've often thought that the next obvious step for rhythm based video games like these is to allow people to compose their own simple melodies and then share them with other users. I bet this type of user generated content would be super popular and free the video game companies from spending a fortune on royalties for famous songs. I also have hopes that kids playing these games will make the leap from toy instruments to real instruments and spark a renaissance in music and the way music is recorded and presented. Time will tell. I'd love to see the manufactures of these games branch out their repertoire of music as well. While Guitar Hero: Kurt Rosenwinkel Edition probably won't be coming out any time soon, it makes sense to include some classic blues and jazz songs that have simple structures, especially at the beginning of the game. Perhaps the next edition of Guitar Hero will have some Jimmy Reed as one of the tutorial songs.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Charles Lloyd - Rabo de Nube (ECM, 2008)

This live album recorded by tenor saxophonist, flautist and composer Charles Lloyd was recorded on the group's 2007 European tour, with bandmates Jason Moran on piano, Ruben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums. Each of the lengthy performances opens with a unaccompanied solo statement by one member for the band before the rest of the group group comes in and the the improvisation really starts of evolve. "Promethus" opens the program in a meditative fashion, with Lloyd's solo saxophone and some spare bells. Harland's dynamic drumming then kicks in and the performance slowly begins to build in intensity. There is a spacey piano and percussion interlude before the full band returns for the finale. "Migration of Spirit" is opened with solo bass before weaving saxophone and shimmering percussion enter to mark a mid tempo quartet improvisation. "Booker's Garden" opens with some deeply spiritual solo flute, before bubbling bass and drums kick things out of the navel-gazing groove into an improvisation focusing on crisply comped piano and whirling flute. There's a really inspired piano solo by Moran, alternately fierce and percussive, followed by a bit of bass and the return of the flute. This was the most impressive track on the album, and even at fourteen minutes the excitement never lagged. "Ramanujan" again opens with solo saxophone, sounding mysterious and alluring. A trio interlude follows with some fine percussion work from Harland. Moran increases the pace and leads the way to a most impressive performance. "La Colline de Monk" flirts with Thelonious, a natural for Moran, before segwaying into Lloyd's composition “Sweet Georgia Bright.” This is a strong album of probing, inquisitive modern jazz. As impressive as Lloyd is throughout this disc, it's the young supporting trio that draws the most attention. Rogers is rock solid soloing and in support and the percussive interplay between Moran and Harland is deeply satisfying. ECM would do well to encourage the three to make a trio album.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Howlin' Wolf - His Best (MCA/Chess, 1997)

Chester Burnett aka Howlin' Wolf was a man's man, well over six feet tall and three hundred pounds, and endowed with an awesome voice that sounded like it sprang from the very core of the Earth itself. Chess has repackaged its Wolf recordings on a number of occasions, and this is the most recent version, gathering his most well-known recordings. Wolf always employed stellar guitarists, and on this collection are three of the best in modern postwar blues. Willie Johnson, Buddy Guy and Hubert Sumlin all support Wolf with jagged shards of electric guitar, and go a long way in making the music the protean force it is. Howlin' Wolf's own harmonica playing was simple but potent and very effective, adding to the raw power of these performances. Without getting too romantic about the music (which is among my all time favorites) there is something in the majesty and Earthiness about this music that just entrances me. After reading books like Elijah Wald's Escaping the Delta, and more recently Marybeth Hamilton's In Search of the Blues, I have been trying hard to be a little more realistic in my listening and not read into or mythologize the music I listen to, especially since as a middle-class white man in the twenty-first century it is folly for me to even think that I can understand this music. Much like on the Muddy Waters collection I reviewed previously, bassist and composer Willie Dixon is the unsung hero here as well, contributing such classic songs as "Wang Dang Doodle" and "Spoonful" which were not only great blues songs, but would be very influential in early rock 'n' roll music. Wolf's own "Moanin' at Midnight" begins the collection with his own unearthly moan before the band kicks in and the song takes flight. "Back Door Man" and "Forty-Four" brilliantly explore the themes of violence and infidelity in the blues, while "Three Hundred Pounds of Joy" proved that Wolf could throw down a song of braggadocio that would make today's hip-hop stars, or his rival Muddy Waters, green with envy. This wonderful disc is the cornerstone of any post-war blues collection. Solid liner notes and photographs are added to the package. If you are not familiar with this music, you are in for one of the most hair raising treats in American music.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Roy Campbell - Akhenaten Suite (AUM Fidelity, 2008)

Taking his inspiration from the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten, trumpeter and composer Roy Campbell performed this suite of music at the 2007 Vision Vestival in New York City, with Billy Bang on violin, Bryan Carrott on vibes, Hilliard Greene on bass and Zen Matsuura on drums. The music remains interesting throughout, maintaining an exotic, yet accessible sound with Campbell's soaring trumpet interacting with Bang's swirling violin and Carrott's shimmering vibraphone. The two parts of "Pharaoh's Revenge" were highlights of the disc for me, lengthy performances that are buoyed by the energy the band brings to the proceedings. The music recalls that of Sun Ra, and he had a great composition called "Sunset on the Nile" but I think Campbell's performance of the same name name is an original, regardless it's a majestic piece to end the disc followed by introductions of the band members. While the musicians here are associated with the free-jazz scene in New York, much of the music is centered around the compositions, and even mainstream jazz fans should find a lot to enjoy here. This is fresh, invigorating and enjoyable music.

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Roy Haynes - A Life in Jazz (Dryfus, 2007)

This well designed collection, consisting of three compact discs and one DVD, provides an excellent overview of drummer Roy Haynes' extraordinarily productive career as both a leader and a sideman. The musicians on this collection are a veritable who's who of modern postwar jazz. The Penguin Guide to Jazz once postulated that it was possible to write a history of post-war jazz from the perspective of Miles Davis. As true as this is, it's even more so for Haynes, who has performed with swing era luminaries like Lester Young and Sarah Vaughan, bop heroes like Charlie Parker, and modernists Eric Dolphy, as well as John and Alice Coltrane. All of the above and many more are represented on this set, with the first two CD's tracking Haynes role as the drummer of choice for any modern session. It's impossible to list highlights (they all are) but Bud Powell's "Bouncin' With Bud, and Thelonious Monk's "Rythym a Ning" show Haynes simpatico relationship with pianists, which would continue into recent times with Chick Corea. Haynes has no trouble fitting into avant garde settings, like Andrew Hill's "Black Fire" or Alice Coltrane's amazing organ workout "Transformation." Disc three contains his most recent work, with Pat Metheny on "James" or his music as leacer of the bop centered Fountain of Youth Band. The enclosed DVD has some snippets of performance and interview sequences. All in all, this set makes the case for Roy Haynes being one of the most significant jazz musicians of the past 60 years. Dryfus has done a very good job with this career spanning collection, licensing music from several labels and designing a very classy package with well written liner notes included. This fine collection is recommended without reservation for any fan of modern jazz.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

The Complete Mercury Art Farmer/Benny Golson/Jazztet (Mosaic, 2007)

There is an amusing story in the liner notes to this wonderful boxed set about how trumpeter and flugelhornist Art Farmer and tenor saxophonist Benny Golson were both planning to form bands in the mid to late 1950's only to find out that each was planning to ask the other to join their respective bands. Wisely joining forces under the collective name of The Jazztet, they made enough music during a remarkable three year run (1960-1962) to be collected here in a mammoth seven disc set. Throughout this set they are accompanied by a fine set of supporting musicians including McCoy Tyner, Cedar Walton and Tommy Flanagan on piano, Curtis Fuller on trombone and Albert "Tootie" Heath on drums. Farmer and especially Golson were remarkable composers, as well as players and classic compositions abound like Golson's exemplary trio of originals "Blues March," "I Remember Clifford" and "Killer Joe" which made their first album Meet the Jazztet such a revelation. The entirety of that album is included here as well as the albums recorded by the collective during this period and a smattering of solo music recorded by Farmer and Golson. Fans of hard bop will adore all of the music found here, a treasure trove of classic mainstream jazz with up-tempo cookers, blues and ballads in abundance. Mosaic is known for its lavish packaging, and there is a lengthy booklet filled with notes, discographical information and great photos. Those new to this great band may wish to dip their toe in the water by buying their classic first LP, but those with deep enough pockets simply can't go wrong with this wonderful package.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Muddy Waters - Hoochie Coochie Man: Complete Chess Masters, Volume 2 1952-1958 (Hip-O, 2005)

Bluesman Muddy Waters was hitting the peak of his considerable powers during the seven year run at Chess Records chronicled on this set. Joined by legendary sidemen like harmonicist Little Walter Jacobs, pianist Otis Spann and bassist and songwriter Willie Dixon, Waters continued to re-define the blues and provide inspiration to a new generation of musicians on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean who would go on to make their mark in the 1960's. The fifty sides collected here include some of Muddy's most protean performances like the chest thumping anthems "I'm Ready" and the epochal "Hoochie Coochie Man." The wonderful cover of Big Joe Williams "Baby Please Don't Go" is included as well, but really the entire set is a whos-who of classic Chicago blues. Some rarities and b-sides give a more complete view of the development of the music he was producing during this period. This two disc set comes in an oversized cardboard package, with a nice liner essay and some amazing and candid photographs. This is a very well done package, containing some of the finest and most influential music of the 20th century.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ross has been putting great Illasounds podcasts up faster than I can listen to them, but I can heartily recommend Blow, Mr. Dexter:

"An 85th birthday tribute to saxophonist Dexter Gordon with Bud Powell, Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Bobby Hutcherson, Kenny Drew, Tete Montoliu, Sonny Clark, Palle Mikkelborg, Barry Harris, Melba Liston, Carl Perkins, Thad Jones, Neils Henning Orsted Pedersen, Stanley Clarke, Paul Chambers, Leroy Vinnegar, Sam Jones, Bob Cranshaw, Butch Warren, Philly Joe Jones, Billy Higgins, Art Taylor, Albert 'Tootie' Heath, Al Foster, Louis Hayes and Kenny Clarke."

Ethan Iverson has a thoughtful tribute to the late bassist Dennis Irwin on blog of The Bad Plus:

"When these major players leave, the knowledge leaves. You can listen to recordings and practice obsessively, but a few words of wisdom from someone like Dennis Irwin (especially when you are opened up after seeing him play a great set) is worth innumerable hours of flailing about on your own."

Jeff has a nice post on Big Road Blues, breaking down his most recent radio show, Blues and Hard Times - The Panic is On:

Todays show focuses on blues songs about hard times; songs about the 29’ depression, job loss, inflation, recession and welfare are just some of the themes touched upon in the songs played today. While hard times touched both whites and blacks, it always hurt the poorest, which in the segregation area meant the black population."

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Chick Corea, et. al. - The Song Is You (Douglas, 199?)

This was an interesting album that I stumbled upon while browsing Emusic. It's an ad-hoc group jamming on some classics compositions, nominally led by pianist Chick Corea with drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Miroslav Vitous in support. Different guests sit in at times like Anthony Brazton and Lee Konitz on saxophones and Pat Metheny on guitar. Recorded live at the 1982 Woodstock Jazz Festival, the discs open with an impassioned reading of John Coltrane's "Impressions." Like the Coltrane band of yore, Corea prods Braxton with relentless piano chords and the saxophonist responds with a gloriously intense solo. An unusual lineup pervades the group jam on Miles Davis's "So What," who would have ever expected Braxton and Metheny to share a stage? And while sparks don't necessarily fly, the jam works well, creating fine solo opportunities. The core trio gets a chance to shine on Duke Ellington's "Ishfahan" with some wonderful drum and piano interplay at the center of the performance. This was an interesting album, with some unexpected highlights, and very talented musicians having fun with the opportunity presented to them.

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Book review: In Search of the Blues by Marybeth Hamilton (Basic Books, 2008)

This book took a different approach into searching for the music's origins, by following four musicologists in their search for "pure" blues and folk music. Hamilton recounts the research of academics Howard Odum and Dorothy Scarborough, whose search for untouched folk-blues led them to travel into black communities in the south to collect songs and stories. Their stories make for uncomfortable reading, as their views on race are antiquated and disturbing. Little better was John Lomax whose "discovery" of Leadbelly is recounted in detail. Their love of the music did little to keep men like Lomax and those with political motivations from using the musicians and music for their own end. His son Alan Lomax fares a little better, as he too pains not to repeat his father's mistakes. The book concludes with stories of frantic record collectors who attempted to learn the secrets of jazz's origins in the legendary Storyville section of New Orleans and the eccentric collector James McKune whose search for the most primal, haunted blues 78's came to change the way critics and collectors viewed the music. This is a solid and well written if somewhat disturbing book. The search by white researchers and collectors for "pure" voices in a world they brought preconceived notions to and made no real effort to understand is an important lesson for music lovers to consider. We are left with the ides that these men and women were looking for a fantasy created in their own mind rather than music that existed on the ground.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Howard Mandel has posted a lengthy interview with Ornette Coleman:

"In Portland, Ornette Coleman and his drummer son Denardo sat for an hour-plus public interview with me. We talked about music, sound, love, death, race relations, progress and/or the lack of, language, the alphabet -- Ornette's frequent topics."

Big Road Blues has a very good essay on pioneering Chicago bluesman Baby Face Leroy Foster:

"Perhaps the most outstanding record was”Rollin’ And Tumblin’ - Part 1 & 2″ issued as Parkway 501. The record was as primal and raw as anything waxed up North resembling more of a southern field recording than a commercial Chicago blues record."

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Peter Brotzmann, et. al. - Pica Pica (Atavistic UMS, 2008)

Recorded during an early '80's jazz festival, this is a freely improvised collaboration between Peter Brotzmann on saxophones, Albert Manglelsdorff on trombone and Gunter Sommer on drums. The music ranges from the abstract and angular to fiery and free blowing. The opening track "Instant Tears" contains both of these moods, culminating in the three instrumentalists coming together for a frantic improvisatory conversation, but the majority of the music on this selection consists of slow paced probing and groundwork laying, which builds a foundation in riffs and slurs. "We du Mir" has an opening solo of percussion and drums, until trombone enters the fray, poking and prodding around the edges of the improvised drum work. Brotzmann swirls in at a little after the seven minute mark, adding high pitched saxophone to the dialogue. Things develop to a very impressive degree with squalls of saxophone over stuttering trombone and intense drumming. Things simmer down a little bit at the twelve minute mark, before ratcheting up the intensity and concluding the improvisation. "Pica Pica" is a short spontaneous encore, fun and encouraged by the insistent clapping of the audience. Short, intense spontaneity brings out some of the most focused playing of this set. Bursts of noise and clips of melodies are greeted rapturously by the audience. This live album will be a treat for fans of free improvisation, those with patience will be well rewarded by these improvisations.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Elmore James Jr. - Daddy Gave me the Blues (JSP, 2008)

Billing himself as the "undisputed son of the legendary blues great", Junior proves that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree with a rousing album of traditional electric blues, that is rooted in the past without being an exercise in sheer nostalgia. While James Jr. plays guitar and sings like his famous father, neither of those aspects share the heart on sleeve emotionalism of the older man, but rather the deep, hearty music of the Chicago tradition. This is by no means a knock, as the younger man makes consistently excellent music throughout this disc. The opener "Don't Get Mad" and the shuffle "Steppin' With Elmo" sound like they would be right at home in the Chicago taverns James calls home. This is a very fine blues album, and while James Jr. may have impossibly large shoes to fill, he's well on his way to cutting his own niche in the contemporary blues scene.

The Dirtbombs - We Have You Surrounded (In the Red, 2008)

This band may be the best project of musical polymath Mick Collins, the hardest working man in Detroit rock 'n' roll. Previous Dirtbombs albums have focused on garage rock and soul music, but this album expands that palette even more with varied songwriting and music. Unadorned rock 'n' roll is the basis of their sound and it is what they do best as can be heard on the blasting "Ever Lovin' Man" and the pumping dirty bass that prods through "Wreck My Flow." Things take an even more interesting turn with the amazing song "Leapordman at C&A" apparently written for an Alan Moore comic. It's ominous thump, and lyrics about a post-technology civilization is the most ambitious song the band has ever performed and it succeeds gloriously. "Sherlock Holmes" which re-imagines the detective as a dancing lothario, and "Fire in the Western World" also expand the band's vision, proving them much more than a one-trick pony. The only experiment that overstays its welcome is the instrumental freakout "Race to the Bottom" which becomes a little monotonous while stretching out past the eight minute mark. Regardless, this is The Dirtbombs most varied and confident album, and their mix of slashing guitars and sly humor is highly recommended.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Marco Benevento - Invisible Baby (Heyena, 2008)

Marco Benevento is a keyboardist and composer who splits his time between jazz and jam band rock 'n' roll, creating an interesting fusion that pervades his work here. Many of the performances on this album have multi-tracked keyboard layers, where chords of acoustic piano compete with fender rhodes or swirling organ. Accompanying him on this album are Reed Mathis on bass, Matt Chamberlain and Andrew Barr on drums.The music runs the gamut of emotion from the moody and melancholy of "Record Book" to the whimsy found in "Atari" with it's glitchy electronics and fast upfront drumming. Especially intriguing is "Real Morning Party" which is one of those "cheesy but I love it" tracks that I can't get out of my mind. It's a song with electronic keyboards and a hook that could snare Jaws, sounding like the theme from a cartoon or video game as Benevento pounds away insidiously on what sounds like a cheap toy keyboard. The jazz police would be scandalized, but if you have a sense of humor that enjoys whimsy you will probably enjoy the music found here quite a bit. It's a wonder Benevento hasn't been called upon to write more music for film or TV, his melodic sense and flights of improvisational fancy would be perfect for a visual medium.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Jane Ira Bloom - Mental Weather (Outline Records, 2008)

Soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom mines abstract territory for the most part on this disc, sneaking and twisting through a labyrinth of melody established by her collaborators Dawn Clement on piano, Mark Helias on bass and Matt Wilson on drums. Everything is played very well, but there is an element of navel gazing to the music with a preponderance of slow tempos. Things pick up with a couple of impressive uptempo performances, like the title track "Mental Weather" where the soprano saxophone pokes and prods through a garden of insistent drums, full rich piano chords and pumping bass. "Electrochemistry" brings out the electronically enhanced saxophone Bloom has experimented with on previous albums and uses it to good effect, creating a fast swirling and whimsical feel for the music. Strong playing from the backing trio, still playing acoustic instruments, makes this a very effective performance. This is a very solid and thoughtful disc, though with it's slow and graceful music making the majority of the disc, it's best for those patient enough to explore its quiet mysteries.

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Monday, March 03, 2008

Steve Reid - Daxaar (Domino, 2008)

Drummer and composer Steve Reid's diverse credits range from Motown recordings to free improvisation through to his more recent electro-acoustic jazz experiments with Kieran Hebden. On this album, all of these influences and experiences are in play and come together to produce a very exciting album of electro-acoustic-ethnic-fusion. Joining Reid are Hebden on electronics, Khadim Badji on percussion, Dembel Diop on bass, Roger Ongolo on trumpet, Jimi Mbaye on guitar, Bors Netsvetaev on keyboards. None of these musician play at all on the opening track, "Welcome" which is performed by Isa Kouyate on kora and vocals in an enchanting way. The album proper kicks in with "Daxaar" which features a trance groove of electronics, percussion and organ laying down a hypnotic foundation for the trumpet to comment on. "Jiggy Jiggy" has a trippy and complex electronics and percussion feel, while "Dabronxxar"sets a wonderful Electric-Miles feel with bubbling bass, electronics, subtle guitar and trumpet. I found this disc to be very enjoyable, the drones and grooves established gave a multi-cultural kozmigroove air to the proceedings, while never sinking into navel-gazing.

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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Various Artists – Droppin' Science: Greatest Samples from the Blue Note Lab (Blue Note, 2008)

This rather spurious collection brings together some of the tracks recorded for Blue Note records that have been most widely sampled by the hip-hop community. There’s some good music to be found here, especially in the grinding organ and sweet alto saxophone solo found on Lou Donaldson’s opener “It’s Your Thing” and on the Brother Jack McDuff organ groover “Oblighetto.” I have a soft spot for the funk Grant Green recorded during his second tenure with Blue Note, and “Down Here On the Ground” has some fine guitar playing. But none of these good tracks can make up for the disaster of Donald Byrd’s disco debacle “Think Twice”, a horror show of sickeningly sweet vocals, and cheesy stings. It’s no surprise that Blue Note’s music is revered by hip-hop practitioners, all thoughtful music fans have a special place in their hearts for the music made by this historic label. That feeling of affection would expand even more if they would stop releasing unnecessary collections like this and instead spend their time and money promoting young, talented and living musicians.

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